If the Buffalo Bills were going to get through the 2023 regular season and make any noise in the playoffs, they were going to have to find a way to replace No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White, who is out for the rest of the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in early October. Buffalo’s defense allowed an opponent Offensive EPA per Play of -0.26 with White on the field, and -0.01 when he’s been off. As opposing EPA is better when it’s negative, that gives you a good idea of White’s value.
Buffalo’s opponent Passing EPA per Play splits with and without White have been even more severe — -0.33 when he was on the field, and -0.02 when not. Now, we also have to take into account the injury losses of defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, but the point still stands. White is the only Bills cornerback this season with an interception, and the only cornerback allowing an opponent passer rating lower than 100 (80.6). The Bills’ cornerback rotation outside of White is decent enough, but without an alpha, it doesn’t work nearly as well.
So, if you look at the metrics for cornerback Rasul Douglas, who the Bills got in a trade with the Packers on Tuesday, it may look like another beta in a group filled with them. Buffalo got Douglas and a fifth-round pick for a third-round pick sent to Green Bay, and on the season so far, Douglas has allowed 23 catches on 34 targets for 274 yards, 102 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, one interception, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 109.2.
Further, Douglas’ seeming regression over the last three seasons would have you thinking that the Bills were chasing fool’s gold here.
Douglas has been in Joe Barry's defense for three seasons. His opponent passer rating allowed in that stretch:
2023: 109.2 https://t.co/MPLPE0ymzT
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) October 31, 2023
But we need additional context to determine the success of this deal, and that comes from the tape. And the tape shows a defender who’s patient but aggressive, with all the movement skills required to at least contend with most opposing No. 1 receivers.
And on this Jimmy Garoppolo pass to Jakobi Myers against the Raiders in Week 5, Douglas tore off his original assignment of receiver Tre Tucker to break up the crosser in Cover-3. The recognition skills and closing speed are what Bills head coach Sean McDermott and his staff liked when investigating this deal.
Metrics can’t really account for busted coverages, but tape can, and there were enough of those for the Packers this season to give Douglas the benefit of the doubt.
Douglas didn’t thrive as much as one might expect in Barry’s defense, but you could count on one hand the players who have in the last three seasons. Douglas’ complete skill set might be just what the Bills need to turn their defense around.
The stats are a bit squirrely, but the tape doesn’t lie.